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1997-1998 - 1999 - 2000 - 2001 - 2002+

Digital Pirates Sink Ships

Each week in Entertainment Weekly magazine there is a little blurb about bootlegs available on the common market. Usually they pan the currently running movies as incredibly fuzzy, with popping sound and overall a pathetic presentation when compared to the theatrical counterpart.

But everything changed this week.

While there has always been good quality bootlegs available a little further under the radar than they report (consider the recent SVCD Signs and pretty good DivX xXx), this next generation of digital replicas is going to be the greatest bane in the Internet age Hollywood has had to deal with.

While the street date of the Episode II DVD doesn't arrive for another two months, reports have circulated that bootlegs are running rampant all over Hollywood. And it seems Star Wars is the latest target.

Clones of Clones - There's actually at least four versions floating around. The first and oldest is the theatrical copy on VCD, which hit the Internet the Friday before the film premiere and has been well documented. But now, we've heard of these 3 new versions: an SVCD version, a XVid version, and a DVD-R version. From what we've gathered, the DVD-R one is the first disc including menu screens and commentary. The other two are just the movie itself. The picture and sound quality of the SVCD are of superior quality, keeping in mind of course this is stolen property.

This morning we were sent small clips from several of the bootlegs, and the rumors are absolutely true. The original bootleg looks abysmal when compared to the latest rips, the XVid version is ultra clear. In the 30 second section of Obi-Wan getting a tour on Geonosis, you can see the quality is way too good even for VHS, so this is definitely from the DVD. Even I am impressed and at the same time saddened by the quality of this transfer. And the latest version even includes AC-3 sound. Wow.

Is this any different than plot points being leaked to the Internet? Any different than a few chance photographs going online or some early unauthorized production stills? Sure, from a certain point of view. Most operate under the general assumption that spoilers and minor leaks are welcomed, almost making the three year wait tolerable. Even some suggest that sites like TFN are simply free marketing for Lucasfilm, operating within required parameters. But is copying the entire movie to be considered marketing? Absolutely not. Is leaking a bootleg copy of a movie online making your anticipation for the offical version greater? Probably not.

I agree with many that have suggested they would like to test the quality of the official DVD possibly in a small official downloadable file in advance. I hope it will at least be considered. And I understand you want to see screenshots and get an idea of what is in store for us November 12th. But we must wait 60 days. Demand for these illegal products must decrease and it starts here. I'm not suggesting that I don't have pirated material on my computer. I'm not saying that none of our staff have copywritten content on their hard drives. Doesn't every computer have something from Microsoft that wasn't theirs originally? What I am saying is that if you are looking to TheForce.Net to promote bootlegging, or wondering if we will condone this type of behavior you would be wrong.

Why are Bootlegs Bad? - Let me give you an example from my own life. I remember when a select few had the script for Episode I way back in December of 1998. If that script had been copied and spread across the land six months before the film's release, it would have been responsible for scores of lost sales of the Episode I Illustrated Screenplay. In English, that translates to literally millions of dollars. The same could be said with the movie and this latest rip. If you download the movie, you are hurting Lucasfilm, Star Wars and the possibility of future installments of the series. You cause people to lose jobs. 'But I'll buy the DVD anyhow,' you say? Still, you are encouraging illegal behavior and directly affecting the marketplace and the product. Keep in mind that DVD creators might also be forced to jack up the costs on legitimate buyers to make up the money they lose to bootleggers. It costs money to fight bootleggers which they pass on to the consumer, someone has to pay for it. The government and court system also get wrapped up in fighting them which costs money to the taxpayer. Everyone loses.

Yes the quality of the bootlegs are improving, but generally it is still quite poor and not worth the effort of buying. So would you rather put the money in the pocket of Uncle George, creator of Star Wars, or some slimy high school dropout bootlegger selling copies on the street corner? And are we really that naive to think that the widespread bootleg available for Episode II before its release didn't change the bottom line at the box office? Sure, sequels are expected to do only 60% of the original, but Clones was no doubt hurt by bootleggers. Is 300 million dollars too much for a movie to make, to much for 'the man' to get into his pocket? If you download bootlegs out of protest or copy your official soundtrack for everyone and their mother to have, you are biting the hand that feeds you. Of course, the problem is that if we can get free candy from the store without a possibility of ever being caught, why buy candy ever again? Sigh. Support your theaters. Buy the DVD.

Hollywood beware, there are pirates on your ship. And they've got new and improved weapons you've not had to deal with before. With the benefits of the digital age comes digital difficulties as well. The same equipment that makes movie magic is also making it easier to steal that property. And what can be done in response? We'll be watching the developments with great interest.

Joshua Griffin

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